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Every season seems to have a particular sign to announce its arrival, and we country folk eagerly watch for an indication of each seasonal change. Tapped maple trees, blooming gardens, and abundant pumpkin patches each tell you which season is pushing aside the previous. But in my eyes, wildflowers are one of the prettiest ways to mark the gentle passage of summer. Two flowers in particular provide a wonderful calendar for our warm months, and, since childhood, I’ve enjoyed them at every opportunity.
Can anyone look at a daisy and not smile? This lovely wildflower runs laughing through field and forest, its bright, sunny face turned up. A delightful snow-white beauty, this wildflower is one of the many blessings of summer carpeting the countryside and smiling gaily at old soleil. Daisies love to chase after one another across every pasture, adding splashes of white among the solid green. Summer hayfields also abound with this pretty flower while its winter forage stretches to the sky.
A daisy has the softest petals and advertises its colors for all to see. The first daisies appear alone but quickly fill our fields and hearts with summer joy. With no apologies, this bright flower boldly announces that summer is finally here!
When I was a child, old-time farmers up here in my district called the weeks of late July and early August “high summer.” This meant that haying was over, the vegetable garden was producing its tasty bounty, and some of our warmest weather had finally arrived. The daisies’ eager smiles heralded that the hot days – the lazy days – had at long last come to stay.
As youngsters, we all gathered handfuls of daisies and paraded them home until every available vase was overrun with happy, white and yellow faces. Children love this flower for the easy picking – the tough, forgiving stem is perfect for tiny, determined hands. When summer daisy-picking was in full swing, we forgot about the dandelions that had held our attention in spring. Poor dandelion, ignored for the prettiest petal in the meadow.
A bonus in any daisy-gathering expedition is the discovery of wild strawberries. Nothing cultivated could ever come close to the sweetness and taste of berries picked among wildflowers. Ask any grinning, red-stained forager, and they’ll set you straight.
The daisy’s vivid yellow and white are distinctive without being too showy. It would rather laugh than be serious like a stately, proper rose residing in a well-manicured flower bed. It doesn’t sweat the small stuff or take itself too seriously – oh, that humankind could be so blessed! Summer is a wonderful time in farm country, made even brighter with the sunny faces of our friends.
My other favorite summer flower has to be the black-eyed Susan. Dusky cousin to the daisy, it’s every bit as colorful. While the daisy loves attention and can happily shine alone, the Susans shyly stick together. Have you ever noticed the way they seem to look away when you try to gaze at them? Properly trained in etiquette, the black-eyed Susan will turn away, never boldly staring. But when you do catch their attention, these flowers have a lovely face and flashing, coal-black eyes. How lucky you are to find several dozen beauties in one place, each a summer gift.
When you go looking for Susans, you’ll probably be rewarded with wild raspberries, so bring a dish. Raspberries and black-eyed Susans are a pair of natural partners in summertime. Wild raspberries can have a seedy texture and aren’t everyone’s idea of a treat, but to a country person such as me, they’re high summer in its purest form. Every summer, we children gathered pails of the fruit, enduring the prickly canes and the many wild bees’ nests. It seemed every decent raspberry patch contained a bees’ nest that someone would disturb. This usually caused a wild, screeching retreat to some other patch until the whole scenario played out again.
Though our black-eyed Susan brings lots of smiles to summer, it has a dark secret most people don’t know about: When its season has passed, that means September has arrived. By the time the yellow petals have faded, we’re awaiting our first taste of frost. Most of the garden’s produce will have gone by. No more fresh peas or cucumbers, and the ‘Golden Bantam’ corn will be mostly a buttery memory. The festive pumpkins will have begun to ripen for Halloween, and summer’s flowers will wave goodbye for now.
Summer’s meadow beauties, like the sunny days, go by so quickly. If only happy summer days could be banked and withdrawn in frigid January! There are a few tough nuts that will keep popping up, but wildflowers are ones that can’t stay forever. Before long, the rural landscape will change with winter’s return. It may seem endless, those winter days, but in time, the daisies and Susans, along with the sun, will return to make us smile.
Forage for Your Farm
While a country field of wildflowers spilling over the horizon is unarguably wonderful, these pasture pretties are not the best forage. Good hay is the real aim for most acreage not under tillage. A quality digestible hay crop begins with a soil test to determine which nutrients might bring the tonnage up to barn-filling numbers. Also, be cautious seeding any non-native plant that might be a problem later.
Making wise seed choices for good hay can be an easy job, and local selections are often best. Your district agricultural extension office can assist you with this. For example, in my area, good legumes, such as clover or alfalfa, mixed with vetch and sainfoin put forage in the barn. Old standbys, such as timothy grass, can add solid fiber, and horse folk love the blue, ripe heads in square bales.
Speaking of baling, be sure your hay seed choice matches your storage system. Any hay seed mix must suit the livestock it’s intended for, be it cattle, horses, or goats. Up here in my county, we traditionally put in buckwheat to quell the weeds and then add oats with hay seed mixed in. The oats are harvested this year while the clover-timothy mix is harvested next summer.
And the wildflowers? Well, they come back shyly at first, and then they burst across the new grass like children on holiday.
Cary Rideout is an award-winning author whose work is featured in a variety of publications. When not pulling weeds or picking rocks, he’s often found walking his beloved country hills. Cary shares his love of all things rural with his artist wife, Lorain.